Students in the Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University who have decided to apply to law school will want to consider the following.
Deciding where to apply
Many factors should be considered in deciding where to apply: geographical region, setting (urban or rural), size, selectivity, status, cost, financial aid possibilities, special programs (combined degree, affirmative action admissions, night law school), clinical programs and so forth. The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools is a good place to begin your research. The guide presents two-page school descriptions prepared by the schools. It gives a good sense of how the schools see themselves—what they think they do especially well—as well as specifics about their programs and financial aid. Many include a grid of their admissions record from the previous year at the various GPA and LSAT levels, which can give you some ideas of how likely you are to be accepted at any particular law school. The most recent copy of the guide is available in the Department of Political Science or it may be ordered from Law Services using the publication order form in the Registration and Information Book.
Law school admissions personnel are usually happy to provide information to prospective applicants. Take the opportunity to meet with many representatives in person each fall (usually late September) when they come to the Chicago Law Forum. Held in Chicago each fall, you can meet recruiters from most law schools, collect information and ask questions. Dates and locations of the law forums are listed in the Registration and Information Book, and in the Prelaw Society newsletter.
Once you have established a list of potential law schools, write to ask for catalogs and applications. New catalogs are available in August or September.
Selecting a law school is a critical decision. Gather as much information as you can before you commit your time, money and energy. The following is a checklist of items you should investigate before you make a final decision:
- Faculty: legal training, specialties, diversity, accessibility to students
- Financial support: loans, scholarships, employment opportunities at law school or law firms for second and third-year students
- Housing: dorms, apartment rates, parking, clearing house for roommates
- Tutorial: academic support programs
- Internships: number, locale, salaries (if any)
- Community environment: recreational opportunities; clean, well-lighted places; cafes, record stores, bookstores and other shops
- Student organizations: kind and type
- Attrition rates: How many drop out or fail; why?
- Placement: locations, salaries; depth; differences between top 10 percent and other 90 percent
- Library facilities: extent of holdings; computer access; hours of operation; access to other libraries’ holdings; available individual and group study space; parking and proximity to rest of campus
- Alumni: What do recent alumni have to say?
- Student body: satisfaction level; backgrounds; undergraduate schools; diversity
- Costs: fees, likely increases; transportation or commuting costs, parking fees
- Bookstores: holdings, study guides
- Bar pass rates: review courses and costs, study facilities and accessibility
- Special programs: guest speakers; moot court and other competitions
- Career services: number of advisors; programs; resources
- Student participation and representation: in admissions; in curriculum selection; in administration of the law school
- Philosophy: practitioner oriented; platonic method
- Reputation: How does the school measure it? How do students?
- Administration: focus; personnel
- Joint programs: joint degrees; flexibility in tailoring a program
- Enrollment: student body count; class sizes
- Physical facilities: classrooms; student lockers and study spaces; student meeting areas; disabled student access
Make an attempt to contact current students and recent graduates as well as law school representatives to get answers to your questions.
Select a range of schools for application. Apply to a few schools that will almost certainly admit you and also include a few where you are not likely to be admitted, but would dearly love to attend if accepted. Your middle range should be schools that may or may not accept you, but you would be happy to attend.
Apply to as many or as few schools as you wish or can afford. Each application requires a fee; fee waivers are available in cases of financial need. Apply to enough schools to be sure of being admitted to a school you would like to attend.
If possible, visit law schools before you make your final decision about which one you will attend. Most schools provide tours, arrange for you to sit in on classes and to talk with professors, students and staff. Since law schools do not conduct formal interviews, visits are a good way to introduce yourself to school representatives at the same time you are gathering direct knowledge about the school.
Preparing the application
Your application is the school’s first impression of you, so take care in preparing it. Neatness counts, so unless otherwise directed, type all forms. Follow directions carefully,and include all requested information as completely as possible. To avoid making corrections on an application, you may want to copy the forms and fill out the copies first. Law Services now offers a CD-Rom that allows you to fill out applications on your computer. All of the ABA approved law schools have applications on the disk. It saves time and effort and is well worth the $50 investment. See the LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book for ordering information.
File your application in a timely manner. You should plan to have your applications completed and sent well in advance of the application deadlines. We recommend having them in the mail by Thanksgiving if you plan to be admitted for the following September. This will maximize your chances of acceptance, especially to schools with rolling admissions. As admissions committees begin to fill the available positions in a class, your odds of acceptance get longer with each new admittance before your application arrives.
You are responsible for making certain that your letters of recommendation are sent in a timely fashion. Some applicants discover that even though they have filed their applications early, their files are delayed in the review process because the required letters of recommendation have not been received. This can seriously diminish their chances of acceptance, especially if they are already borderline.
You may wish to mail your applications Return Receipt Requested to alleviate anxiety about timely receipt of your applications and to provide proof of filing. You may want to do the same when you mail in your seat deposit after acceptance.
Pre-law personal statement
Students in the Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University who are applying for law school should be prepared to write a personal statement. Most schools require a one or two-page personal statement. This should be viewed as an opportunity to present yourself in a way that is not reflected in your transcript or resume. It is a substitute in many ways for the personal interview, so let your personality emerge from the page. Do not restate the obvious or rehash material that the admissions committee will already have before them. Tell the schools what you can offer them that no one else can. Accentuate experiences, traits, abilities and passions that set you apart. Be specific. Develop a narrative that will be engaging and worth the committee’s time to read. Don’t be too cute or unconventional. The personal statement is also your chance to explain anything on your record that may appear negative. In all cases, be sure your grammar, punctuation and spelling are correct. Sample personal statements are available from the department. Some commercial publications offer useful samples of personal statements too. Remember, however, that you are writing your own personal statement that should reflect your own style. Don’t rely on gimmicks or on someone else’s style.
Letters of recommendation
Most law schools require one or two letters of recommendation with your application, and even those that don’t will consider them with your application. Choosing your recommendations is consequential to how it will affect your admission chances. Some schools specify that they prefer or require faculty recommendations and do not consider an application until the faculty letters arrive. A strong faculty letter demonstrates an awareness of the student’s academic potential, and is not just a citation of a particular grade that a student earned in a particular class. The wise applicant will make every effort to get to know their professors, and not just to enhance their law school applications with a strong letter. A good mentor-student relationship can enrich your undergraduate education immeasurably and sustain your intellectual life far beyond your college and law school years. A student who pursues special projects and demonstrates true intellectual curiosity and initiative is certainly the kind of student that any good law school covets. A great letter of recommendation is simply a happy by-product of a student’s hard work.
The importance of faculty letters is not so significant for applicants who have been out of school for several years. Letters from employers, co-workers or others in a position to evaluate your ability or character are appropriate. If you have maintained contact with one or more of your professors, you may of course provide a letter from him or her. If the school requires a faculty letter, try to comply even if you have been out of school for some time. You can include letters that amplify your time out of school. Students who are planning to apply to law school within a year or two after graduation from college may want to have letters from professors placed in their files before they graduate. The prelaw advisor has forms for students to use in such cases.
Try to choose recommenders who can be specific and who can write you the strongest possible letters. You can tactfully ask a recommender if they feel they know you and your work well enough to write you a strong letter. If a recommender seems reluctant to write a letter, find someone else. A lukewarm or negative letter will obviously damage your chances of acceptance. If a recommender is willing, be sure they are able to write you a good letter. Someone who is able to compare you with other students who have attended a law school to which you are applying can be particularly persuasive. Dealing with facts relevant to law school is appreciated by the law schools, as is honesty. A letter that recognizes a candidate’s weaknesses, but is nonetheless laudatory can be of great help to an admissions committee. You can insure stronger letters by choosing your recommenders with care; then provide them with writing samples, a resume and your personal statement. All will help them to know you better as a student and as a person.
The rule of thumb in selecting a recommender is to look for the quality of letter rather than the prestige of the author. You may be acquainted with a senator or a judge who is willing to write you a letter even though he or she does not know you well. Such letters are generally a waste of the writer’s and the admission committee’s time since they tend to be so general as to be meaningless. It is preferable to get a letter from someone unrelated to the legal profession who can tell the committee more about you than they can glean from your application or personal statement.
The LSDAS offers a convenient Letter of Recommendation Service for no extra charge. You will be asked whether you are willing to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation. Some argue that doing so will increase the credibility of the letters you receive. Certainly a glowing letter has more force if an admissions committee knows that the applicant has not and probably will not ever see it.
Plan ahead when asking for letters of recommendation. Give your recommenders adequate time to prepare your letters. You should ask your recommenders a few weeks before you give them the forms if they are willing to write you a letter. Then make sure you give them at least three weeks to complete and mail the letters after you have given them the material. Asking a recommender on Monday to “write a letter and send it by Friday” demonstrates a wanton disregard for his or her other duties and responsibilities. Certainly it does not provoke your writer to speak well of your maturity and responsibility or to applaud your organizational skills. The result may be a less positive letter than you might otherwise have received.
You will get a better response from recommenders if you follow a fairly simple protocol. Include stamped, addressed envelopes for every form or letter to be sent to the LSDAS Recommendation Service or directly to the schools. Make sure all waiver forms are signed, and that any part of the form that you are responsible for filling in is completed before you give them to your recommender. A recommender should never have to look up your social security number or wonder whether you forgot to sign a waiver or intentionally omitted your signature. Their only task should be to write the letter, stuff it into a prepared envelope and mail it by a specified date.